South Sudan said Sudan has launched four new attacks in the last 24 hours on the as yet undefined border that the sides have been fighting over for weeks. The accusation follows threats from Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to destroy the South Sudanese government.
South Sudan’s occupation of a contested area of Heglig that Sudan uses to produces half its oil has sparked fears that what started as border clashes could lead to all-out war with Khartoum.
South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin said Heglig is within a 1956 border left by former colonial power Britain. He said the south is now fending off attacks in three of its 10 states.
“The government of the Republic of Sudan is on continuous attack both bombardment and ground forces invasion into the territory of South Sudan, but the Republic of South Sudan has been able in self-defense to actually to repulse these wanton attacks within the borders of South Sudan," said Benjamin. "We would like to say again, up to now, we have not crossed, even an inch, into the borders of the Republic of Sudan.”
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Sudan's parliament voted this week to make South Sudan an enemy of the state, and on Wednesday President Omar al-Bashir vowed to to crush the southern government, which he described as an “insect,” and to “liberate” the south's people.
But despite the increasing war rhetoric and intense fighting on the border, Benjamin insisted that South Sudan was not at war with Sudan.
“That pronouncement by parliament in Khartoum is a declaration of war. The Republic of South Sudan is not in the state of war, nor is it interested in the war with Sudan, which we believe is a senseless war,” he said.
However, Benjamin said that southern troops would not pull out of Heglig unless both armies cease hostilities, agree to demarcate the border and pull out troops from the Abyei - another contested area on the border, which was occupied by Sudan Armed Forces, SAF last May.
South Sudan’s army - the SPLA - occupied Heglig, which the South calls Panthou, after pushing forces back for the second time. The south said the area was being used to launch attacks on South Sudan.
“The SPLA forces are in Panthou, which is Heglig, to put to an end repeated attacks by Sudan Armed Forces - SAF - into the positions of the SPLA," Benjamin said. "The presence of SAF in Panthou, has been a security threat to SPLA positions in the area.”
South Sudan also said it is ready to restart negotiations with Sudan, that aimed to address outstanding issues over territory, borders, and the sharing of oil revenues following southern secession last July.
But while war rhetoric mounts, it remains to be seen what can draw these two former civil war foes back from the brink of a renewed bitter conflict.